How browsers track your data
Activity. Web browsers keep track of your past activity. Activity tracking can help you retrace your steps, bring back pages you want to refer to again, and reach your favorite sites quickly. While these features are handy at times, the Internet history file it creates contains all your past browsing sessions—the list of sites and pages you’ve visited—some of which you may not want others who use the same computer or device to find. However, today's web browsers make it simple to erase your history and get rid of your past online activity.
Download history. Browsers also track your download history, which is a list of files you've downloaded. Don't confuse this history with the actual downloaded files themselves, which you have stored somewhere on your computer's disk. It's simply a list of references to them, which helps when you've previously downloaded a file and now can't find it or if you want to download the same file again.
Cookies. Next, there are cookies—little pieces of code that sites store on your system. Cookies help websites recognize who you are, but there are many different forms. For example, if you go to a weather website and it immediately shows you the cities whose weather conditions you've previously searched, that's a cookie in action. If you come back to a previously visited shopping site and the same items are still in your shopping cart, that's cookies at work. These files don't harm your computer, but some users don't like to be tracked this way and delete them regularly.
Cache. Browsers also keep a "cache," containing local copies of graphics and other elements that your browser uses to load pages more quickly. When you return to a site you've just visited, for example, the browser may pull site images from the cache instead of pulling them from the Internet again. In this way, the amount of data downloaded is reduced, and the whole page-loading process is sped up.
How much to erase? When you decide to erase your Internet history, most browsers will list all types of data separately. If you decide to clear out everything, you will start all over again as if you had a new browser on a new computer. Or you may wish to keep certain types of files, like the cookies and cache but not history, to make your browsing life more convenient.
Cleaning your browser data
In Google Chrome, click on the three dots to the right of the address bar opening the application menu, then click "Settings." Scroll down and click "Advanced," then click "Clear browsing data." Select from the list options, set the time period you want to clear, then click the "Clear browsing data" button. Note: If you've set your browser to sync with other computers via a Google account, clearing your history will also delete that data across all the other devices that you've signed into in Chrome.
In Mozilla Firefox click the three horizontal lines to the right of the address bar to open the Firefox menu, then select "Options" (called Preferences in the macOS version of the browser). Click "Privacy"; then click the link marked "Clear your recent history." Switch to the "Details" tab to see different types of data, and set the time period using the dropdown menu at the top. Then click "Clear Now" to confirm.
In Apple Safari on macOS, your browsing history will be deleted by opening the Safari menu and then clicking "Clear History." Select the time period you want to erase from the dropdown menu, then click "Clear History" to confirm the action. Note: When you clear your Safari history, you won't get the option to delete different types of data—you’ll be wiping out your cookies and cached files along with your history.
In your Microsoft Edge browser, to clear your browsing history, click the three dots to the right of the address bar, then select "Settings" from the menu that appears. Under the "Clear browsing data" heading, click "Choose what to clear." Next, make your choices from the list, which includes browsing history and cached data, and then click "Clear."
In the Windows version of the Opera browser, first click 'Menu' at the top left of the screen. Then select "More tools" and "Clear browsing data" to bring up the correct dialog box. Then choose your data type, specify the time period, and click "Clear browsing data."
On macOS, Opera requires a slightly different process: Open the menu, click "Preferences"; select "Privacy & security"; and then click "Clear Browsing Data." You'll then end up with the same history-clearing options—types of data, time period, etc., that you’d see in the Windows version.